J-Horror remakes, Dean Koontz adaptations, Freddie Prinze Jr.… there sure have been a lot of short-lived movie fads. Usually they die out slowly, eyes gradually glazing over and simpering in that puppy dog way that makes you want to cry, except that in this case you really don’t care. The “found footage” horror genre might have more dignity than the rest. Rec 3: Genesis, the third film in the Spanish horror franchise that helped codify the subgenre, kills it dead one-third of the way through the movie, when the zombies have just attacked and the heroes look at the lone cameraman, who’s screaming that they have to record everything that happens, and slap the camera out of his hands because he’s an idiot.
That’s not to say that Rec 3: Genesis is disrespectful to the found footage genre. By using the gimmick to establish the characters in the first act, they maximize its potential for realistic characterizations and believable interactions between them. But once the horror kicks in, particularly broad horror with no relation to reality or the fears and anxieties that exist within that reality, Rec 3 abandons the found footage conceit in favor of a traditional, “cinematic” approach that befits the cartoonish violence. We accept that there was a “real” world before the zombies attacked en masse, perhaps better than we would have in a film that started off as a comedy, so the lengths to which the heroes go in order to save their loved ones and return to their normal lives is believable, even when the action is patently ridiculous. Found footage is afforded its proper place as a storytelling device. After this, using it as a cure-all for otherwise generic horror riffs would just seem tacky.
And if that sounds too snooty for you, let’s just say that Rec 3: Genesis is gory as hell, really funny and abandons the found footage genre at just the right time, for the right reasons, and remains solid after the fact. The plot is simple: a wedding party (being videotaped, naturally) is attacked by supernatural zombies who divide the bride and groom – Jason Segal lookalike Diego Martin and the impossibly sexy Leticia Dolera – and transform their families into mindless killing machines. The hero and heroine spend the rest of the film travelling the vast estate on which they wed in order to find each other, save each other, and escape to begin their lives anew. Chainsaws and Spongebob Squarepants jokes are in abundance.
The wedding setting functions as a great way to justify the found footage conceit, costume most of the zombies similarly (saving money on extras) and emphasize the heroes’ path. The wedding symbolizes starting their own family, away from their respective families. So they have to kill them. Simple and clever, good show. Director (and co-writer) Paco Plaza develops his cast of characters in memorable ways, and slips them – sometimes inelegantly – into one memorable horror scenario after another, keeping the action fresh, lively and often very funny, when it’s not just relatable and sad.
Rec 3: Genesis is one of the best horror movies of the year. Granted it’s been a crap year for the genre so far, but a compliment is still a compliment. It doesn’t follow or even subvert genre tropes for their own sakes, it uses them for maximum effect. So it stands to reason that the film is very effective. Even a little great. I laughed, I felt sympathy for the characters’ plight (rare in any genre movie), I cheered at the dismemberment. It’s exactly the kind of horror comedy they don’t make anymore, and would make a fitting double feature with Re-Animator, Army of Darkness or Dead Alive. Now that’s a compliment.